Piano Resources for Advent, Christmas, Epiphany

I can’t imagine worship through the cycle of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany without music. Through the centuries, composers and arrangers have offered the church a wealth of music that is consistent with the themes of worship for these seasons.

The resources suggested here for the pianist and keyboardist are arrangements of text-based hymns and songs. Some are based on historic and traditional hymns, others reflect newer arrangements. They represent a spectrum of difficulty levels and of style considerations that encompass various personalities and expressions within worship, including global songs, songs from the historic church, Christian contemporary music scene, and songs from the liturgical folk tradition. Not every piece in every collection may be suitable for your worshiping community.

When considering arrangements to include in worship, look for music that draws the best out of the text it is paired with. The music should not be incompatible with the text, nor should it overshadow the text. Prepare thoroughly so that you can “play the text” instead of concentrating on the musical aspects alone. Think of your playing within the service as an offering of your worship as you assist others in their worship.

J. Bert Carlson. Carols from Many Lands. Augsburg Fortress ISBN 0-8006-5976-7. 2001. Difficulty level: Easy to Moderate. Length of pieces: 1-3 minutes. Tunes included: a la rue; divinum mysterium; go tell it; i wonder; irby; irish carol; jeg er saa glad; stille nacht; w zlobie lezy; wir hatten gebauet. Highlighted arrangements: “Silent, Night, Holy Night” and “Infant Holy, Infant Lowly, which in this collection is titled “Snowy Flakes Are Falling Softly.”

Arrangements are gentle and flowing, but most of the metronome markings seem too fast for the pieces.

John Carter. Merrily on High. Augsburg Fortress ISBN 0-8006-2347-9. 2006. Difficulty level: Easy to Moderate. Length of pieces: 1½-2½ minutes. Tunes included: branle l’officiel; gloria; go tell it; greensleeves; hyfrydol; picardy; schedryk; w zlobie lezy. Highlighted arrangements: “Angels We Have Heard on High,” “Go Tell It on the Mountain.”

Unique in this collection are the setting of gloria, which is constructed engagingly in 5/4 time; and the setting of go tell it in a soft blues/jazz style.

John Carter. Still More Carols for Piano. Hope 8175. 2002. Difficulty level: Easy to Moderate. Length of pieces: 1½-3 minutes. Tunes included: personent hodie; coventry carol; kings of orient; noel nouvelet; stille nacht; antioch; wie schon leuchtet. Highlighted arrangements: “On This Day Earth Shall Ring,” “Sing We Now of Christmas.”

Tends to be easier material then the Augsburg Fortress book featured above; provides a mix of settings of very familiar carols and those sung less often.

Rachel Chapin. Greet the New Morn. Concordia 97-7273. 2008. Difficulty level: Easy to Moderate. Length of pieces: 1½-2½ minutes. Tunes included: away in a manger; consolation; cradle song; deo gracias; jefferson; nun komm, der heiden heiland; rejoice, rejoice. Highlighted arrangements: “Awake, Awake and Greet the New Morn,” “Come, O King, Our Savior.”

A very usable collection of well-crafted arrangements. The arrangement of rejoice, rejoice is crisply written; parts of it could serve as an alternative accompaniment to congregational singing. The other highlighted setting includes an intriguing juxtaposition of the tunes consolation and nun komm, der heiden heiland.

Rudy Davenport. Advent & Christmas Wonder, Set 3. Morningstar MSM-15-846. 2009. Difficulty level: Moderate. Length of pieces: 2-4+ minutes. Tunes included: besancon; carol; es ist ein ros; go tell it; nun komm, der heiden heiland; st. louis; venez, divin messie; veni emmanuel; w zlobie lezy; winchester new. Highlighted arrangements: “Savior of the Nations, Come,” “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”

This well-written collection provides longer arrangements than in many collections and some unique twists on historic tunes.

Michael Larkin. Hymn Meditations for the Church Year. Morningstar MSM-15-837. 2008. Difficulty level: Easy to Moderate. Length of pieces: 2-2¾ minutes. Tunes included: conditor alme siderum; divinum mysterium; dix; herlich tut mich verlangen; huron carol/une jeune pucelle; judas maccabaeus; middlebury; pentecost; royal oak; star in the east; sussex carol. Highlighted arrangements: “Creator of the Stars of Night” with “Of the Father’s Love Begotten,” “’Twas in the Moon of Wintertime.”

This well-written collection includes settings of hymnody that will carry you through the Christian year. Of the ten selections, five could be used during Advent/Christmas. Although Larkin writes accessibly for those with less experience at the piano, those with more developed skill can also enjoy the pieces. This collection and the next serve well as material for piano students.

Michael Larkin. Rejoice! Morningstar MSM-15-835. 2005. Difficulty level: Easy to Moderate. Length of pieces: 2-3 minutes. Tunes included: adeste fideles; divinum mysterium; herzliebster jesu; lo desembre congelat; noel nouvelet; o filii et filiae; rest your head; stille nacht; vruechten; w zlobie lezy. Highlighted arrangements: “Of the Father’s Love Begotten,” “Cold December Flies Away.”

Of the ten arrangements in this collection, five are based on Advent/Christmas songs, three on Eastertide songs, and one can be used for both Christmas and Easter: noel nouvelet.

Lloyd Larson. Emmanuel. Hope 8322. 2007. Difficulty level: Moderate. Length of pieces: 2-4½ minutes. Tunes included: veni emmanuel; irby; sussex carol; gesu bambino; noel nouvelet; the first noel; gloria. Also included are Christian contemporary songs: “All Is Well”; “Breath of Heaven”; “Christmastime”; “Emmanuel”; “Mary, Did You Know”; “No Eye Hath Seen”; “One Small Child.” Highlighted arrangements: “Breath of Heaven,” “Gesu Bambino.”

Larson artistically sets contemporary Christian songs alongside arrangements of historic hymns. In some instances he combines both old and new in the same setting.

John Leavitt. Shall We Gather at the River. Concordia 97-7055. 2004. Difficulty level: Moderate. Length of pieces: 2-4 minutes. Tunes included: adoro te devote; balm in gilead; freu dich sehr; hanson place; jefferson; kelvingrove; tubman; wie lieblich ist der maien. Highlighted arrangement: “Comfort, Comfort Now My People.”

This excellent collection of general service music includes a setting of Genevan Psalm 42, which is often paired with the Advent text “Comfort, Comfort Now My People.” This arrangement is tastefully crafted in an arpeggiated style.

Mark Limburg. Carols for Piano. Concordia 97-7197. 2006. Difficulty level: Moderate to Difficult. Length of pieces: 2-3 minutes. Tunes included: antioch; cradle song; gloria; greensleeves; mendelssohn; stille nacht. Highlighted arrangements: “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “What Child Is This.”

Limburg writes in a contemporary/jazz idiom. These pieces are technically and rhythmically challenging.

Anne Krentz Organ. Be Thou My Vision. Augsburg Fortress ISBN 978-0-8006-7852-4. 2007. Difficulty level: Moderate. Length of pieces: 2-4 minutes. Tunes included: die guldne sonne; lasst uns erfreuen; puer nobis; slane; wie schon leuchtet. Highlighted arrangements: “On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s Cry,” “How Bright Appears the Morning Star.”

This highly recommended collection of general service music includes two settings usable during the Advent to Epiphany season. Settings of both wie schon leuchtet and lasst uns erfreuen are arranged as partitas.

Anne Krentz Organ. Global Piano Reflections for Advent. Augsburg Fortress ISBN 0-8006-7576-2. 2003. Difficulty level: Easy to Moderate. Length of pieces: 1-2¾ minutes. Tunes included: besancon; conditor alme siderum; haf trones lampa fardig; o-so-so; tif in veldele. Highlighted arrangements: “Ososo / Come Now, O Prince of Peace,” “Creator of the Stars of Night.”

Organ artfully sets o-so-so in a gentle arpeggiated style and includes the use of handbells (separate score included) in her arrangement of conditor alme siderum. Each piece has its own unique flavor.

Larry Shackley. Christmas Reflections. Hope 8283. 2006. Difficulty level: Easy to Moderate. Length of pieces: 2-3 minutes. Tunes included: antioch; cantique de noel; carol; coventry carol; forest green; go tell it; greensleeves; gloria; in dulci jubilo; st. louis; the first noel; veni emmanuel. Highlighted arrangements: “O Holy Night,” “What Child Is This/Coventry Carol.”

This collection of ten settings is written in a semi-contemporary style that is pleasing to the ear.

Piano Plus: Hymns for Piano and Treble Instrumental, Advent/Christmas. Augsburg Fortress ISBN 800638542. 2006. Difficulty level: Easy to Moderate. Length of pieces: 2-3½ minutes.

This spiral-bound 224-page anthology includes arrangements of forty-three seasonal songs set by seventeen different composers for piano and treble instruments. Settings have reproducible parts for a variety of treble instruments.

Norma de Waal Malefyt (nld2@calvin.edu) is Resource Development Specialist in Congregational Song for the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Grand Rapids, Michigan.